Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Things that Go Bang in the Night

By Tim Hannan

Exploding head syndrome, which results from neurological dysfunction during the sleep–wake transition, may be more widespread than realised.

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In recent years, the neuropsychological literature has been awash with reports of people describing strange experiences when going to sleep. Many of these have described hearing sudden inexplicable noises, such as unseen bombs exploding nearby, thunderclaps on cloud-free nights, or a gun fired in their bedroom by an invisible intruder. At times these sounds are accompanied by flashes of light, or by physical sensations such as intense heat.

While some people are convinced that these explosions are real, most others acknowledge that, since they are not heard by others, the sounds must have occurred inside their own heads. Some have concluded that these noises must be the work of invisible agents such as aliens or poltergeists, or a government agency testing mind-control weapons; for others they are taken as signs of the emergence of a serious mental or neurological disorder.

However, neurological investigations suggest that the episodes are symptoms of a condition labelled exploding head syndrome, which may be much more common than previously assumed.

The earliest known description of exploding head syndrome in the scientific literature is from 1876, when an American physician reported a patient’s description of:

a sense of a pistol shot or a blow on the head ... a noise in my head, which is sometimes like the sound of a bell, which has been...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.